Re: [-empyre-] 3 posting from teddy cruz

Hi all, this is my first post in the list. Just a brief presentation:
My name is osfa, aka jose perez de lama, teaching architecture at the University of Sevilla, Spain, and member of - a group doing experimental work trying to connect traditional space with electronic and social networks.

I very much like Teddy Cruz's statements.
Just one question: Could you elaborate a little more in the artistic dimension of your work; or formulated another way, why is your work - for example the mapping project you commented - considered artistic, instead of, let's say, a public urban-policy project?
I do agree with this idea of art which is directly engaged in changing the world, in a very direct way, but would like to learn, if possible, about how you formulate it.

Congratulations for your work, and thanks,

Teddy Cruz escribió:
Thanks to the people who responded.

Some thoughts in the context of some of your observations (I will try to be as specific as possible even though I suffer from being a generalistŠ):

Intro: Since when are we all not implicated in the power structure? We all, in one way or another, circulate through the institutions of power, from the classrooms of the university, the white walls of the museum, to the collector's living room. I am NOT interested in EVADING power. I want to confront it head on. In fact, the first task, I think, for artists and architects interested in public art and space is to reveal power. The invisibility of the power inscribed on the territory: WHO OWNS THE RESOURCES, WHO ARE THE STAKE HOLDERS, WHOSE PROPERTY IS THIS ANYWAY? WHO PROFITS? This, I would argue, is the first 'critical' act. Otherwise, we will continue perpetuating public art as an afterthought, an instrument to decorate the mistakes of bad planning.

Maybe I should be more specific:

These are some problems / conflicts that have re-defined my practice:

1. In San Diego, where I practice and teach, there is a crisis of housing affordability. The reason private developers have not built ONE affordable housing project in many depressed neighborhoods in this city -even during a period of unprecedented construction boom in California- is because A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN ZONING POLICY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. In other words, for a developer to make a 100% affordable housing project profitable, he or she would have to be competitive, against other developers, in terms of obtaining tax credits and subsidies. In order to be competitive, to make it feasible, this project would have to have an average of 50 units. 50 UNITS ARE NOT ALLOWED BY CODE IN MANY OF THESE COMMUNITIES, and mixed used is prohibited by zoning. Housing affordability is trapped in this contradiction. Therefore there is no way out of this crisisŠ it's a catch 22Š
As an architect interested in re-defining what we mean by housing affordability, density and mixed- uses, challenging the discriminatory zoning policies in San Diego, I am convinced that the project I need to engage is to brake into the 50 unit construction loan, how to shatter it, how to re-define the tax credit system, how to negotiate with the municipality in this city, how to produce a more flexible zoning policyŠ

And this is what I have been doing in the last six yearsŠ working in a particular neighborhood at the border. Understanding the logics of these contradictions. Collaborating with a non-profit organization to design a political and economic framework that can allow us to produce alternative modes of housing affordability. Opening the question: can a neighborhood be the developer of its own public infrastructure and housing stock? Negotiating with the municipality to modify density and mixed use by allowing the many illegal units built in back of houses to be legitimate, and in so doing allowing them to be considered affordable housingŠ and with the banking industry to brake down the 50 unit construction loan into micro-credits as long as the non profit takes liability and facilitates these small loans to pay for those small unitsŠ. In other words, before 'designing' the housing projects I was commissioned to develop, we needed to design the process, political and economic, that would make those housing projects sustainable. Also to design the actual collaboration across agencies and institutions involved in the development.

In the united states where the government, at this moment, does not give a dam about investing in public infrastructure and housingŠ to re-think these socio-political and economic processes is the point of departureŠ This is what I meant by entering the institutions of powerŠ to mobilize their resources and their logics of organization. Everything is out thereŠ we cannot pretend to re-invent the wheel, we need to find ways to re-think collaborations across institutions, agencies, jurisdictions.
2. We need to challenge conventions of representation. We need to redefine the way we construct information in order to expose such contradictions, and to map the invisible forces that are ignored by the institutions of planning and juxtapose them with the actual, official maps produced by municipalities. In San Diego, for example, I set up an effort to prove that the official land-use maps produced by the city were essentially lying in the way that they represent some of the neighborhoods impacted by immigrants. The municipal maps typically use a yellow color to denote a residential area, red for commercial. Usually in the land-use maps that you get of neighborhoods with large numbers of immigrants, you find a lot of yellow and very little red, maybe in some avenues where retail might be allowed. But when you take these official maps and you actually walk parcel by parcel, block by block, you realize that two types of colors-and two strategies for organization-are not enough, and that there should maybe be six more colors, or even ten more colors, and that they are layered on top of each other. The cultural or economic intensity of these informal densities begins to create a very different picture of each neighborhood. You realize then that there is a clash between the reality of everyday life in those neighborhoods on one hand and their idealization by planners on the other. Most important, though, was the fact that by mapping the reality of those spaces, we forced the city to acknowledge them, to accept that the new density regulation could take place in the neighborhood. In many of these inner city neighborhoods in San Diego, the official minimum parcel size is 5000 square feet per dwelling, and this is a ridiculously grand suburban scale. Our mapping began to expose the fact that in many of those parcels two or three more illegal units were coexisting, sometimes even with small businesses. The density and mixed use that was happening on an informal, organic basis actually made sense. It makes sense that the minimum parcels should be 2500 or even 1500 square feet for a single house, not 5000. This is why our project began by mapping unconventional and even illegal building trends, in order to pressure the city to revise existing policy. So what I'm suggesting is that one task of critical spatial practice is one of a re-appropriation or occupation of the reality of these specific socio-political and economic forces at play in the city, but ignored by the institutions. Otherwise, mapping becomes a self-indulgent instrument only producing the metaphorical or the poetic-which is, admittedly, also part of what we do. In the context of architecture, there is a satisfaction in just drawing as a way of reproducing or representing things as opposed to a way of constructing the conditions that can open up new ways of -critically-intervening in the territory. Who ever said this was right: As architects we are obsessed with the conditions of designŠ instead, we need to design the conditionsŠ

3. In this case, and risking sounding incredibly naïve: true agency begins by changing the way we think. For me, the essential question is, how do we dismantle concepts that have become clichés? For instance, what do we mean by "community," "density," "affordability," even "housing"? Density is not just an amount of units or people per acre, as all our institutions have defined it. What if we were to redefine density based on the amount of social exchanges that take place per acre? There is a similar problem with defining "mixed use," which we conventionally think of as people living above retail spaces. But it can be more than that. What about imagining it as social support systems connected to housing? for example? From there, perhaps we can begin to imagine social services in exchange for rent. In essence, I am interested in a project of intervention into the rigidity of institutional thinking-how to rethink the established political and economic procedures that our institutions have predetermined as prerequisites to build a city.

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